[Note: Today is Day #12 with Covid. Overall I'm doing better, but the nagging cough isn't easily shaken. Alas, I thought it more honest to write while still sick – for a 'varnish-free' meditation on the Scriptures.]
Joseph in Genesis
I've been reading the book of Genesis. The final 10-12 chapters tell the story of Joseph, son #11 of 12 to Jacob. As a boy, Joseph dreamed his brothers and father would one day bow down to him ... and he was crazy enough to tell them his dream! They didn't like it one bit.
A few years later the disgruntled brothers, realizing dear ol' Dad seemed to love Joseph more than them, decided to kidnap and sell Joseph to some nomadic traders – who trafficked Joseph into slavery in Egypt. The next 13 years of his life were rough ones. A house slave, he was falsely accused and then imprisoned. He suffered a great deal. Yet through Cinderella circumstances, he ascended in a moment from prisoner to ruler over all of Egypt.
As prime minister, Joseph prepared Egypt for a coming famine (which God revealed to him). When the famine hit, Joseph's brothers journeyed to Egypt to buy food. But twenty years after selling him for 20 shekels of silver, they didn't recognize Joseph, as they bowed low to him as ruler over Egypt (recall Joseph's adolescent dreams of this). Through clever negotiations, Joseph forced his brothers to face their forgotten sin against him.
When Joseph finally reveals his identity, he bears no anger toward his brothers. Rather, he tells them God was the One who sent him to Egypt – not the brothers! (No doubt the 11 brothers' jaws were on the floor.) This is astounding perspective, as Joseph traces God's good hand behind their evil actions. Joseph says:
"Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me here ahead of you." - Genesis 45:5
In fact, Joseph repeats these words three times in the next four verses. Stunning. "God sent me ahead of you." Joseph sends his brothers home to retrieve their father (Jacob) and their relatives, to move to the best land in Egypt: Goshen.
Joseph Reminds Me of Jesus
As I mulled this interaction between Joseph and his brothers, I spotted some similarities between Jesus and his 'brothers.' By 'brothers' I don't merely mean the 12 Apostles, but the rest of us who've been reborn into His family. Hebrews 2:11 reflects on our brotherhood with Jesus:
"Both the One who makes men holy (Jesus) and those who are made holy (us) are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." – Hebrews 2:11
Here are fingerprints from the Story of Joseph that remind me of Jesus:
- Joseph's brothers betrayed him and deserted him, though some were more active in the betrayal than others (e.g. while some wanted to kill Joseph, the oldest brother, Reuben, was hoping to release him. – Genesis 37:21-22). Similarly, Jesus' closest friends deserted and betrayed him in his moment of need. And frankly, in our own ways, so have you and I. We have all been very bad brothers to Jesus.
- The brothers negotiated 20 shekels of silver as the price for Joseph. Judas negotiated 30 silver coins to sell Jesus to the authorities. How much have we held onto our silver and gold, at Christ's expense?
- They sent Joseph packing to Egypt ... coincidentally, King Herod sent baby Jesus and his parents packing to Egypt as well (Matthew 2:13-23). And at various moments in our lives, haven't we also sent Jesus away?
- Remember how Joseph said, "It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you"? Hang on to your hat ... in the Gospel of John, 41 separate times Jesus says: "the Father sent me." And the reason Jesus was sent? To save lives. Surely Jesus was sent ahead, to rescue us.
- Joseph was a slave from a distant land, without status or position in Egypt. Likewise, Jesus was a mere carpenter, an out-of-favor traveling teacher whom the religious leaders hated.
- Joseph's ascent was sudden and glorious. Pharoah placed him in his chariot and had others proclaim, "Bow the knee!" (i.e. "Make way!" Gen 41:43). On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem – on a lowly donkey – to thunderous acclaim, though it would all dissolve within days.
- Joseph doesn't appear to lament his suffering, but embraces it as the prerequisite to walk with God. And Jesus never eschewed suffering either, all the way to the Cross. We likewise are called to suffer with him.
- Joseph weeps seven times in the book of Genesis (42:24, 42:30; 45:2, 45: 14-15; 46:29; 50:1; 50:17). Likewise, Jesus was the "Man of Sorrows" and "acquainted with grief" (Is. 53:3). He wept over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41).
- Finally, the deeply unworthy siblings of Joseph are given the very best of Egyptian land in the middle of a famine. They travel to Goshen, where they will thrive. Jesus, like Joseph, secures Goshen for all his brothers – though undeserving we are. Such grace is too good for us; but it is ours nonetheless. What a Savior! What a King!
Though I am exceedingly unworthy to be named in your family...
Though I am a deserting brother of the Risen King ...
Though I've treacherously sold you for silver and squandered it all ...
I bow before you – like Joseph's brothers bowed before his rule and royalty. Expecting your chagrin, I kneel speechless at your favor. You – the One who now weeps with joy for me! I am not merely forgiven my treachery against you, I'm led to the pleasant pastures of Goshen by your performance. Goshen is secured by you, not me. Oh, such indescribably lavish, wildly extravagant favor you've poured on me!
Like the prodigal son who squandered everything he'd been given, I too feel the wonder and awe ... aware that you traded places with me. My sinful performance laid upon you; Your righteous performance draped upon me.
The youngest son came crawling back,
A broken man, for sure;
On him was poured extravagance,
Like perfume down a sewer.
Lord Jesus, thank you for being sent ahead of me, to save many lives. Amen.